On his website, Evan Younger, who sings and plays upright bass for the eclectic acoustic Princeton-born string band Miracles of Modern Science, cites the band Tears for Fears as one of his major influences. It’s sort of a tongue-in-cheek reference.
“When (our band) first started playing together, we covered a tune called ‘Shout’ by Tears for Fears,” Younger says. “We turned it into sort of a slow waltz, sort of a drunken sea chantey. We’d play a verse and then keep playing our instruments and tell a story, make up a story about pirates. That was sort of our signature song back then.”
Then there’s the spacesuits. The band often wears outrageous silver astronaut gear a la Sun Ra, which they did as a schtick in 2006 at school. They found the suits online; a costume store was trying to get rid of them. Now they want to live it down, and move toward more traditional musician get-ups, but they can’t. “Once we came out in normal clothes, and the audience yelled at us because we weren’t wearing the suits,” says Younger.
Miracles of Modern Science is among the bands performing on Saturday, October 10, at Indie Music Night at Griggstown Pavilion.
“We formed the band when we were freshmen at Princeton University,” says Younger, who is joined in the group by vocalist and mandolinist Josh Hirshfeld, drummer Tyler Pines, violinist Kieran Ledwidge, and cellist Geoff McDonald.
How about the name? “Josh Hirshfeld said the name and the acronym, MOMS, which we go by also, sort of came to him simultaneously — I don’t know how — but it really fit. Our schtick, I guess, is that we use all classical string instruments, with drums, so I guess the ‘modern science’ thing is sort of ironic, considering we use antique instruments.”
The band, on its Myspace Music page, (myspace.com/miraclesofmodernscience), bills itself as a bunch of “orchestra drop-outs and jazz band rejects.” That is not exactly true. Actually, says Younger, the members of the band did play in Princeton’s orchestra and jazz bands. (After all, these are Princeton guys. No rejects or drop-outs among them).
Hirshfeld, Younger, and Pines were all members of Princeton’s jazz band. Younger played for a year, and McDonald and Ledwidge played in the university’s orchestra. Pines was known as a “jazz prodigy” on the Princeton campus. After graduating, McDonald, who was assistant conductor of the University Orchestra, received a master’s degree in conducting from Mannes College of the New School of Music in New York.
Younger, 22, graduated from Princeton in 2008, as did Ledwidge and Hirshfeld. The three of them got together their freshman year “as sort of an acoustic, more of a country band.” When McDonald (Class of 2007) and Pines (Class of 2009) joined the band, says Younger, “we kind of morphed into a rock band and we basically plugged our string instruments in and played louder, and so our sound sort of shifted.”
The band’s first gig was at Cafe Vivian, an on-campus cafe at Princeton. It also played a lot of shows at the Terrace Club, one of the university’s 10 eating clubs.
“When we started out we were pretty goofy, we did a lot of campy genre stuff,” Younger says. “Now I wouldn’t say we’re actually serious, but the focus is more on the music itself and not on jokes and that sort of thing.”
MOMS has a lot of influences from a lot of different places. “We run into trouble when we try to categorize ourselves,” says Younger. On its website, the band bills itself as “a Civil War string band shot into outer space on a giant disco ball spaceship.” Younger now calls the group’s sound “orchestral indie rock” or “orchestral space pop.”
“We’re trying to meld the acoustic string sounds you don’t normally associate with rock or pop music with an energetic, danceable, upbeat, rock and roll kind of feel. I don’t know, call it what you wish,” says Younger.
Younger was born and raised in Charlottesville, Virginia, home of the University of Virginia. His mother, Deborah Younger, is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the university, as well as a practicing doctor in town; his father, John Randall Younger, is an artist and classical guitar maker. The elder Younger has shown his portraits and landscapes at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian, as well as in prominent galleries such as Gallery Henoch in New York and the Butler Institute of Art in Youngstown, Ohio. “He’s done pretty well,” says his son.
When Younger was younger — sorry — the bassist, as well as his older sister, was tutored in the classical guitar loved by his parents. His father began playing guitar when he was a young man and saw it as an avocation or second profession, says Younger. The Younger youngsters both started on piano at five years of age and branched out into guitar at the age of 10. “We just had a pretty musical household growing up,” says Younger.
Younger began listening to classic rock at the beginning of middle school and soon switched to electric guitar. When he wanted to join his middle school jazz band, however, “the band did not need a piano player or a guitarist, but they did need a bassist. So I began to play bass.” With the switch came a heightened interest in jazz as well as rock, classical, choral music, and all other types of music.
While Younger’s sister, Michelle, 24, is working on a doctorate in music — classical guitar to be specific — at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, it was actually Princeton’s jazz program that originally attracted Younger to the university.
“I was pretty seriously into jazz bass and composition,” he says. “When I applied to Princeton, I sent some tape of me playing my compositions.”
Younger is an eclectic kind of guy, he says. “I’ve always had a lot of different interests that I pursue.” For instance, during his sophomore year he joined one of Princeton’s a cappella groups, the Katzenjammers. “I had a lot of fuzzy goals at Princeton, and they all shifted when I was there.”
As a senior project, Younger, who majored in comparative literature and had also earned a certificate in visual arts, fed his interest in video production and animation by putting together a film adaptation of what was first going to be “Oresteia” by Aeschylus. He ended up morphing that into a story from his mother’s youth.
After Princeton, Younger, like all of the band’s members, moved to Brooklyn, since the band had begun getting work in New York. “We wanted to continue the band there, getting jobs to support ourselves.”
Younger had worked part time at Princeton’s Lewis Center for the Arts (where he met Sarah Donner, who puts on Indie Music Night) doing videography, and about a month after he graduated, he was offered a full-time staff job. So he moved back to Princeton, and the rest of the band lives in New York. He commutes back to New York several times a week for gigs and rehearsals. He is happy with the decision, even if it means that Younger often does not get much sleep. “The job market in New York is pretty horrible, and I’m living a lot more comfortably in Princeton than I would have had I decided to stay in New York.”
Indie Music Night, Griggstown Pavilion, 373 Bunkerhill Road, Princeton. Saturday, October 10, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Coles Whalen, Whiskey Boys, Miracles of Modern Science, Gina Cimmelli, and Folk by Association. 609-672-1813 or www.sarahdonner.com.